Tag

meltdown

A Halloween for Those with Sensory Challenges

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Halloween – a holiday full of tricks and treats. For some children, getting in the Halloween spirit by getting dressed up, carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating with friends is what they look forward to all year. For others, dressing up in an itchy costume, not being able to see someone’s face because they are wearing a spooky mask, being out in the dark with crowds of noisy trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and having to touch the oooey goooey insides of a pumpkin, and seeing decorations that make sudden noises or movements may make this holiday overwhelming for these children. Halloween can be tricky for families with children living with sensory processing difficulties, but with some creativity and planning ahead, families can build their toolboxes with their own tricks to combat the challenges that come with Halloween so their child can enjoy the treats that Halloween has to offer.

Here are some tricks for some common challenges that Halloween brings up:

Prepare for the day

Have an open discussion with your child about the traditions and activities associated with Halloween. You can read Halloween-themed books or watch Halloween movies (perhaps not the really scary ones!) to prepare your child for what to expect, because the anticipation of a new routine or anticipation of participating in unfamiliar activities can cause stress on a child. Discuss the plan for Halloween regarding decorations, attending parties, going trick-or-treating, etc., ahead of time so the child knows what to expect when celebrating the holiday. Consider the use of a visual picture schedule with activities that may be added into your typical routine. Provide ample warnings for transitions, when possible, to give your child time to move from one activity to another.

Be creative and imaginative with your child’s costume

The most important aspect of a costume for a child with sensory processing difficulties is ensuring that the costume is comfortable. Certain costume material may be itchy or scratchy, costumes with masks may occlude a child’s vision or be too tight on their head, or make-up may smell off-putting to a child. Children should have the opportunity to try on their costume when walking, sitting, and reaching for things before wearing it for real to make sure they are comfortable moving around in it. It is important to remember the idea of “less is more” and to use your imagination when coming up with costume ideas. For example, if a child wants to be a superhero, consider attaching a superhero logo to the front of a shirt they wear regularly rather than having your child wear a full superhero one-piece costume that may be itchy, tight, and hot.

Choose activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs

Meaningful participation in Halloween festivities doesn’t just include carving pumpkins and going trick-or-treating. Halloween activities can include roasting pumpkin seeds, setting out the candy bowl for trick-or-treaters, doing Halloween-themed crafts, etc. It is important for you to pick activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs. For example, if your child dislikes carving pumpkins because they have to touch the messy pumpkin insides, consider having your child paint their pumpkin or decorate it with stickers instead or make a pumpkin out of paper to decorate. If you and your child really want to go trick-or-treating but your child becomes overwhelmed with noisy crowds, consider trick-or-treating on only quiet side streets, or limit your time, allowing for breaks in between. If your child becomes overwhelmed with flashing lights, loud noises, or scary decorations, consider doing a drive-by of the neighborhood before taking your child out for trick-or-treating so you know which houses to avoid. For some children who crave a great deal of movement, it may be useful to engage in some heavy work activity before participating in a Halloween activity: wall push-ups, yoga poses, carrying weighty objects, for example. It may also be useful to engage in calming sensory activity to ease the transition from a busy setting back into the house: tactile materials like playdough or putty, water play, or a sensory table may be worth trying, or consider making a play tent or fort with quiet books or puzzles, or drawing to smooth the transition.

Monitor for overstimulation

Knowing when your child has had enough of Halloween festivities is just as important as knowing how to get your child engaged in them. A child may not be overstimulated at first, but may become overwhelmed minutes later. It is important to give your child choices of activities and next steps they can take as well as alerting your child about the sequence of events and the timeframe of events so that they know what to expect. If possible, help your child learn to advocate for themselves by saying things like, “please don’t touch me,” or “no thank you, I don’t want wear that,” in order to give them some autonomy over the activities that they participate in. However, in situations where this isn’t possible, it is important as the parent to know when to stop or disengage from festivities when sensory overload occurs and return home or to a quieter, more familiar space to give the child time to decompress.

Resources:

Enjoying Halloween With Sensory Challenges. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Patients-Clients/ChildrenAndYouth/halloween-sensory.aspx?fbclid=IwAR23ux4OKqJmXEZdnCIzb2_Uh0of55YKuCf8ek97UEAc1jZflndR_ZEBRwM

Morin, A. (2019, August 5). Halloween Challenges for Kids With Sensory Processing Issues and How to Help. Understood.org; Understood. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/halloween-challenges-for-kids-with-sensory-processing-issues-and-how-to-help

5 Ways to Help Children with Sensory Challenges Participate in Halloween Festivities. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/Publications-News/ForTheMedia/PressReleases/2019/102419-Halloween-Tips-Sensory-Challenges.aspx

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Behavior Happens! But Does It Have To?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Recently, I’ve written a few blogs about behavior management and meltdowns and being a behavior detective. I thought I’d end the behavior series with a blog on how to prevent meltdowns from occurring, or at least try to prevent them! Obviously, preventing meltdowns is the best option if at all possible. No one likes to be around a meltdown, and the child doesn’t like it either.

There are many different experts with their own methods and strategies, but most start with common principles. Know yourself, know your child, meet him/her where they are, know what makes them tick and what works for them, as every child is different. It’s the behavior that is unacceptable, not the child. The child is still valued and loved; the behavior isn’t.

Kids will be kids, and they will lose control. Hopefully, over time, they learn self-control and emotional regulation. But the brain’s frontal lobes which control executive function, which includes behavioral control, don’t fully develop until the child I in his or her late 20’s…so buckle up as it’s going to be a long ride! Remember a meltdown is a child’s best attempt in the moment. It is the fight, flight and fright/freeze response. Trying to prevent these from happening are good for the child and the whole family. Life isn’t perfect and meltdowns will occur, but let’s try to lessen their frequency by employing some of the following:

  • Pick your battles—What’s negotiable and what’s non-negotiable? Make sure your kids know the list of “have-to’s” or non-negotiables. Simplify rules and make them realistic to the age of your child. Don’t make a rule/consequence that you cannot be consistent with or follow through with.
  • Keep calm in the eye of the storm.
  • Catch ‘em being good and let them know you saw them behaving well.
  • Tell your child what you want him or her to do, not what you don’t want them to do. Kids do the best they can in the moment.
  • Whenever possible, limit the amount of times you say the word “No.” Leave “No” for safety concerns. Instead, give information, and acknowledge and accept your child’s feelings/opinions. Substitute a “yes” for a “no” and use fantasy talk. “Yes, I wish you could stay up late, too, but we have to get up early tomorrow.”
  • Don’t phrase things so kids can say ‘no’ if the answer “no” isn’t an option. Wording and phrasing matters. Sometimes indirect requests get better results than directives. Explain your reason for non-negotiables (even if they don’t agree or like them). Do some tasks together that are problematic for your child. Shared ownership is better than no ownership.
  • Allow choice and control whenever possible. Don’t get into power struggles you will lose.
  • Having agency and mastery helps all kids grow and learn.
  • Consistency, Structure and Predictability are providers of Stability and Simplicity that enable your child to Anticipate, which is a means to enhance independence.
  • Clear rules, expectations and consequences provide organization, safety, structure and limits while enhancing mastery, self-control and improved self-efficacy.
  • Children don’t have the same sense of time or urgency as adults do, so allow for extra time to complete tasks when possible and use timers to help them organize their time.
  • Use humor and distraction to achieve desired results.
  • Compromise, Flexibility and Negotiation done proactively can go a long way. Work with your child to solve problems before they occur. Be flexible when necessary and make a compromise. Provide your reasoning for the compromise. This is not bribing; rather this approach teaches valuable lessons in win-win solution making, negotiation, compromise, flexibility, fairness and trust. Use this approach next time, and your child will hopefully, over time, learn these valuable lessons/skills.
  • Know your child’s triggers and be prepared. Try to eliminate/lessen them if possible. If they can’t be lessened, teach your child  the necessary tools to cope with them during more calm moments.
  • Know your child’s limits regarding experiences (i.e. downtime, waiting, loosing at games, etc., sensory needs (i.e. hunger, tiredness, sensitivities, etc.) and take these and other areas into consideration. Be prepared and think ahead.

 

Resources to consider:

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Becoming a Behavior Detective

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Behavior = Communication

Behavior is everywhere you look. All behavior is adaptive and purposeful whether “appropriate or inappropriate,” “expected or unexpected,” or “regulated or not.” Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Behavior = Communication?” It is often used to help us think about behavior as a meaningful and purposeful means of communication, even when it is maladaptive.

Behavior is multifaceted and can be internally- and externally-driven. Every behavior that any one of us does can be interpreted as communicative and as having meaning. When a mom says to load the dishwasher and a child doesn’t respond, the child may not have heard her or may have actually heard the direction and chosen to ignore her. Ignoring her and not responding is actually responding – the is escaping a demand or that direction. If a child asks for a toy at the store and the parent says, “No,” and the child cries and stomps their feet in displeasure, the child is definitely expressing feelings. If the parent gives in to the tantrum and agrees to buy the toy to quiet the child down, the parent is reinforcing the inappropriate behavior/tantrum. This pattern often repeats itself, leaving parents and kids in a vicious cycle. The child learns that crying and stomping gets what he/she wants.

Becoming a Behavior Detective

In the current COVID-19/stay at home landscape, being a behavior detective could serve parents and caregivers well! Parents and children are feeling stressed and anxious, even if they don’t appear so. This is a communal feeling given the current situation, and parents may need to pick and choose their battles wisely. Otherwise, they may spend hours of each day dealing with many unpleasant moments. Being “cooped up” with each other may present an opportunity for parents to become behavior detectives to figure out what their kids are trying to communicate. If the children are older, parents may want share this with them so both parent and child become detectives together; maybe even of each other!

Conjunction, Junction, What’s the Function?

Maladaptive behavior is communicating something, and if we want to change that we need to know what the communicative function of the behavior is. By knowing the function behind the behavior (what they are trying to accomplish by the behavior), we can then think about prevention, intervention and post-intervention—thus being able to intervene at three different times before a behavior actually occurs, during the behavior or after the behavior occurs.

Communicative functions of behavior include:

  • Escape/Avoidance of a task
  • Access to something/someone desirable
  • To make a request or a comment
  • Negations/refusal
  • Self-non-interactive—communicating with ourselves or self-talk/actions
  • Attention-seeking
  • Expression of feelings
  • Expression of sensory needs

Given our current environment, it may be important to think about the communicative function of a child’s “maladaptive behaviors.” This provides a way to intervene with a hypothesis of function and consistency of prevention, intervention or response. Given parents’ own mental, emotional or psychological state, they have the option to escalate or deescalate any situation. Be honest with your kids if you are tired, stressed or overloaded; let them know that you may have less patience when appropriate. Remind them that they have a role in helping to make the house and family a kind, happy and compassionate place. Honest communication, kindness and gentleness with one another (even when we lose control) goes a long way to help during these trying times.

If you need help in being a behavior detective, NESCA is providing virtual parent coaching and consultation. Complete our online Intake Form for more information.

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Meltdown Analysis — Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

As discussed in last week’s blog, Meltdowns Happen, all children meltdown. Adults meltdown, too. Losing control can take many forms. It is a part of human nature unless we deliberately work on “controlling the beast” that’s lurking inside of us when our system gets taxed. When children are very young, we expect them to lose control because they are learning how to identify and express their emotions. A three-year-old who tantrums is not that uncommon; however, by the time that child is six and then 10, we want them to have developed more and more control as they mature.  But, many children don’t always develop the control that we’d like, and those diagnosed with learning differences sometimes have even more difficulty controlling their emotions.

Teaching children about their emotions, their triggers and how to manage their feelings is the backbone of improving self-awareness, stress management and social competency (3 Ss). If children can label and recognize feelings, notice how their body feels with different emotions and know how to calm themselves when stressed, the better off they will be in life. In a previous role as the program director of Aspire/MGH, we focused on these 3 Ss and utilized a volcano image with our autism spectrum disorder (ASD) participants to teach them about their stress cycle. The volcano image represented a meltdown (see below).

In using this with your child, pick a quiet, calm moment to introduce it to him/her. You might want to start the conversation by reading a book about stress or big emotions. There are many to choose from depending upon the age of your child. You could also just begin a discussion with volcano image to help them understand what they look like and sound like when they are melting down. Discuss with your child what you think s/he looks like as s/he begins to meltdown starting at the bottom of the volcano and working all the way to the top (5) and then what s/he looks like when s/he begins to calm down and recover (moving down the right side of the volcano). If your child has not learned stress management strategies, this is a good time to practice. If your child has learned some techniques, you can also create a list of strategies that s/he can do at each step to help gain control so s/he doesn’t continue to escalate to the next stage. For instance, at a 3, you may be able to use humor to help redirect, but when s/he is at a 4 or 5, using humor may increase distress. I hope this image helps with understanding and reducing the meltdowns that are occurring every day in everyone’s home.

If you’d like assistance in creating your child’s personal meltdown plan, self-awareness plan or behavior plan, NESCA’s parent coaching services can assist you in the journey.

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Meltdowns Happen

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

When we think of the word meltdown, we may think of the economy or stock market, glaciers, nuclear meltdowns or even volcanoes erupting. These are all examples of things collapsing from being over-stressed, overheating, a major disruption to a system or an internal collapse. Using the word meltdown to describe people is similar. In homes across America, even as we settle into quarantine, slow down our lives and find ways to enjoy our time together, there may be more meltdowns happening that are filled with tears, screams and lots of “No, I don’t want to!” Adults and children are becoming overheated, over-stressed, and our systems are over-burdened. And when a system can no longer take it, it melts down, boils over, erupts, or crashes and burns. In these moments, it is the only way of coping – to let loose, let off of steam, erupt – or just plain melt down. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but each of us is doing the best we can to cope with a difficult environment. We’re trying to do the best we can, because our biological system is in a meltdown. We are not responding; instead we are reacting from our “downstairs” brain and not our “upstairs” brain.

A meltdown may be an explosion and look like crying, throwing things, yelling, aggressing, breaking things, etc. Or it may be more like an implosion – a withdrawal from the family, hiding, sleeping more, lethargy, etc. Both are the same in many ways biologically; the system is in fight, fright or freeze. A meltdown should be viewed as a “neurological storm.” This fight, flight or freeze response is not a child being “bad” or disrespectful, but rather is “bad behavior” that needs to be changed. Remember, it is their best attempt to cope, not a deliberate, willful, defiant act towards you. It is your child saying, “Help me – I can’t help myself! I’ve lost it!” This is not a time to teach, reason with, or win a battle. It is a fire to be put out, and you as the parent or caretaker is the firefighter. It’s a crisis to be managed, and you become your child’s “upstairs brain” or frontal lobe (even though you may want to react from your “downstairs brain,” because you may also be losing it.

Everyone wants to have a good day. Remember, when it’s going in a different direction, you are the adult. You can take a breath and even walk away (if you can) for a few seconds to compose yourself. This allows you to respond versus react. It is your job to manage the situation and take the emotional high road (often easier said than done). In these moments, it is really only about a few things.

  1. Safety and dignity
  2. Keep calm and reduce/simplify your language
  3. Keep calm and know this too shall pass
  4. Don’t get pulled off topic by all the things your child is saying or doing – this is a rabbit hole that you won’t emerge from
  5. Mention what you want to have happen, rather than what you want to stop (“Bang your pillow” instead of “Stop banging the wall”)
  6. Establish connection – right brain to right brain. Remember the mantra, “Name it to tame it.” (i.e. I know this is hard; I know you don’t want to do it; I wouldn’t want to either; or I know you don’t like it, etc.)

Resources:

https://www.drdansiegel.com/books/the_whole_brain_child/

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.